There's nothing like a good row

Some of the arguments we've been having online and introducing our new blogger

It’s always compelling watching other people having a bit of a spat and I’d like to flag up two examples from newstatesman.com this week.

One was the argument sparked by Tahmima Anam’s article on Bangladesh. Some attacked her for belittling her country when she now lives in the UK, others jumped in to defend her right to speak out.

One critic wrote: "Since she appears so enamoured of the comforts of Britain it is better you stay there. Fighting for your country is hard work but soiling those precious manicured hands does not seem to appeal to Tahmima."

I say!

Fortunately plenty of other comments defended Tahmima’s right to hold an opinion. For example: "I find some of the comments here quite appalling … as soon as anyone writes anything against the politicians, the author is automatically branded as unpatriotic."

Elsewhere, Bristol student union president Ben Ullman’s view Campus Radicals that higher education shouldn’t be free provoked quite a bit of comment. People posted from universities up and down the country – some of the students clearly putting quite a lot of time into expressing their arguments. This is a continuing debate and it’s interesting to hear the current generation of students talking about these issues.

Anyone out there in favour of raising the upper rate of taxation, scrapping the national curriculum, bringing back O-levels, reintroducing grants and getting rid of the poll tax?

Can’t pay, won’t pay! Oh, how it takes me back.

Moving swiftly on, next week we’re launching a new blog. Remember the story a few days back about an American family securing one of two rarely available cottages on Fair Isle? Well, the people who got the other one were a young Scottish couple. The male half, Malachy Tallach, is a journalist and singer song-writer …

He emailed me the other day and suggested he write us a column. Good idea, I said rubbing my hands and thinking of some of the scenes in the Wickerman.

Well, he’s sent in his first entry and it’s a great read - the story of remote place with a population of around 70, many of them crofters.

So look out for it next week and learn what Malachy’s life on this Scottish island is like. Though so far, alas, it doesn't seem to have much in common with the celebrated movie...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.